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Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia

The submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia (the Committee) in relation to its inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia was prepared by the Law Council of Australia.

The incident at the Juukan Gorge is one example of the wide structural disconnect existing across the current legislative framework. Cultural heritage laws at the Commonwealth, state and territory levels have failed to incorporate recognition of the rights of First Nations peoples to land and waters. These regimes have not kept pace with the paradigmatic change precipitated by the High Court’s decision in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1.

In particular, Commonwealth, state and territory laws have failed to conceptualise that the importance of land and waters lies in their connection to the diverse cultures of First Nations peoples, which are living cultures. Most of the existing cultural heritage protection regimes have severe limitations in their ability to identify relevant Aboriginal parties or include these parties in the decision-making process. This includes the lack of a systemic process by which to ensure appropriate First Nations representation or meaningful consultation, which would include the ability to seek review of a decision.

You can read the full submission below.

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